WASHINGTON — Joining the House Republican Conference today on Capitol Hill, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence told reporters that he has “no idea” why David Duke’s name keeps coming up on the campaign trail “and frankly you all know Hillary Clinton wasn’t talking about that bad man” when she referred to the “basket of deplorables.”
Pence was asked on CNN Monday if he would put former Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard Duke, a Senate candidate who has continued white nationalist activities and voiced his backing for Donald Trump, in that basket.
“I’m not in the name-calling business, Wolf. You know me better than that,” Pence said. “What Hillary Clinton did Friday night was shocking. I mean the — the millions of people who support Donald Trump around this country are not a basket of anything. They are Americans. And the deserve the respect of the Democrat nominee for president of the United States.”
The governor said “we don’t want his support and we don’t want the support of people who think like him.”
Duke told Buzzfeed afterward that “it’s good to see an individual like Pence and others start to reject this absolute controlled media… the truth is the Republican Party is big tent.”
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told CNN this morning that Pence should have called Duke deplorable “so that he doesn’t get headlines saying, ‘Mike Pence will not say Donald Trump [sic] is deplorable’ and people can get satisfied.”
At a media availability following a closed caucus meeting, Pence was standing alongside House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) when asked about his “deplorables” response.
“The simple fact is that I’m not in the name-calling business. My colleagues in the House of Representatives know that I believe that civility is essential in a vibrant democracy, and it’s just never been my practice. But I’m also not going to validate the language that Hillary Clinton used to describe the American people,” Pence replied.
He argued that Clinton wasn’t talking about racists who support Trump, but “was talking about people all across this country who are coming out in record numbers to stand by Donald Trump and to stand with him in his vision to make America great again.”
Asked if he was concerned about bigoted people being attracted to Trump’s rhetoric, Pence said “we live in a free country.”
“I mean, look, folks, there are two people on the ballot, here. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and one of them is going to be president of the United States of America,” the governor continued. “And I would submit to you this is all a distraction; I get it.”
When a reporter noted that Ryan “has repeatedly and at times forcefully reviewed Donald Trump,” Pence interjected, “OK, somebody else.”
“My and Donald Trump’s respect and appreciation for Speaker Paul Ryan is boundless. Look, you’re gonna have in a majority party, you’re gonna occasionally have differences of opinion. But our goals are identical,” Pence said.